Taking Control of the Narrative – with Khichuri

The Muslims of the world are talking about gathering themselves together to wrestle away their story as told by the militant minority. The Queen of Jordan once gave a compelling speech about how the world gets to see only the militants with their AK47s, or a lone wolf running amok killing a bunch of innocent people, or some mullah spouting hate speech on You Tube and think that is the narrative of Muslims. She talked about how the sane, sensible majority need to get themselves out there on You Tube and other social media and tell their stories, in order to help steer the image of Muslims away from the gutter. We must take charge of our narrative, she said.

I feel like that about Indian food. For too long Indian food has been packaged and sold all over the world by a minority who educated themselves with what had sold best on the streets of London since the times of the Raj. And what sold best on the streets of London was basically what the former rulers of India thought was Indian cuisine. So now when I say Indian cuisine, you think of chicken tikka masala and such dishes of suspect pedigree with the mandatory greasy, gooey gravy. Frankly, those have as much in common with Indian cuisine as ISIS has with Islam. No, the English are not the only culprits in this. Restaurants in India have been playing for tourists as well, concocting recipes that combine two things – a hodgepodge of spices from the entire spice cupboard and heavy cream or butter, sometimes both. Butter chicken falls in that category.

So I think it is time to take control of the narrative. Time to talk about the other cuisines in India. From the mountainous north-east to the desert of Rajasthan, from the tip of peninsular India to the top of the mountains in Kashmir. Depending on whether you ask the Indian Constitution or the Census Board, we have anywhere between 22 to 122 major languages. I suspect that the number of cuisines should be in that range as well. That’s food for thought isn’t it?

This evening, I had exactly 40 minutes to cook something before rushing off to an appointment. In fact, while I cooked, I was also conducting an interview over Skype, thankfully without video. Just tried to keep the clanging of pots and pans to a minimum! But this dish is so simple that it was an easy condition to fulfill. It has been snowy today after weeks. Bengalis have a special dish for rainy days. Since the snow of this morning had been rain all of yesterday, I thought I was justified in making khichuri.

Khichuri is nothing but lentils and rice cooked together. Now depending on the type of lentil used, the spices that are used to add flavour, the presence or absence of certain vegetables, the khichuri becomes fit for a princely banquet or a pauper’s meal. The one I made sits comfortably in the middle. It feels luxurious yet comforting. Its our mac ‘n’ cheese!

MASOOR DAL KHICHURI

Masoor dal is red lentils. I find them to be ubiquitous here in German stores, even the most humble ones. They are remarkably versatile and really tasty. If you have never seen red lentils, look at the picture above.

Ingredients

1 cup red lentils
3/4 cup rice (any kind will do, I used Jasmine)
2 small yellow onions

Process (and no handholding today because really this is too simple) – take a large pot and add 5 cups of water to begin with. Wash and add the lentils and rice. Slice the onions and add them. Bring to a boil and simmer over medium heat. Stir occasionally to prevent things from boiling over or near the end, from sticking to the bottom. If the water looks like it is drying up, add some boiling water, a cup at a time. Once the lentils are falling apart and the rice is tender, turn off heat. Add a generous pat of butter and salt to taste (this dish takes a lot of salt).

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You need something on the side to take it the sublime level. While this can be anything under the sun, I made some Indian omelettes. While the rest of the world merely add salt and pepper to their basic omelette, we add onion and chilli at the very least. I skipped the chilli today because the lone green specimen in my crisper was quietly breathing its last. So I gave it a decent burial and instead, grated some ginger and chopped up some garlic.

BENGALI STYLE “IS-SPESAL” OMELETTE (that’s special in Bengali lingo)

For three omelettes today I took one small onion (chopped), 1 clove of garlic (finely chopped into slivers) and about half a teaspoon of grated ginger. I divided the aromatics into 3 equal portions, broke the eggs for each omelette (2-3 eggs) into a bowl, added a portion of the aromatics, salt, whisked and made the omelette in a really hot pan. We Bengalis like our omelettes folded many many times.

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But my son prefers the flat and round version.

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Today’s dinner got a “very good omelette” and a thumbs-up from my son, while my husband exclaimed “very good” a couple of times. So you are in good hands.

Drop me a comment below.

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